In the medieval Arab world, gemstones were used as ornaments, set in jewellery, seals, and amulets, and also were investments and status symbols. As a result of the Arab conquests and their access to new regions, the distribution and use of gemstones underwent substantial changes. Our research pieces together information regarding the production, use, trade, tradition and cultural value of gemstones from early Arabic sources; this information is compared with material found in ancient Greek and Roman sources and also European sources from the medieval period.
The most valued stones were corundum, diamond, emerald and pearl. Other stones, such as turquoise, carnelian, garnet, onyx, lazurite and malachite, were less expensive and therefore more popular and common among the middle classes. Jasper, amethyst, and crystal were still cheaper and even more commonly-owned. In this article, we have chosen to present in detail the stories of two of the most exotic, expensive, and therefore most interesting gemstones: the diamond and the corundum.